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Alan M. Webber

Alan M. Webber

Posted: May 31, 2009 10:32 PM

Fellow GM Co-CEOs, Let Me Tell You Why I've Called This Meeting!


I've never wanted to own General Motors, but for at least the last 20 years I've wanted to run it. Ever since I worked as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation during the Chrysler bailout, and went on to co-author a book on the U.S. auto industry's vulnerabilities in global competition, I've known I could do a better job of running GM than the same old corporate insiders.

Now, thanks to Barack Obama, I'm going to get my chance! Well, actually, we'll all be called on to run GM, at least for a while. But I figure with my experience and background, some of my ideas might gain more traction. So based on my 20 years of back seat driving, and a few rules culled from my new book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, here's what I'd do as one of the new co-CEOs of GM.

Start with Rule #6: If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture. As co-CEO of GM, I'd start by remembering the wisdom of Ted Levitt's classic HBR article, "Marketing Myopia." Ted argued that railroads lost out because they still thought they were in the train business, when they should have seen they were in the transportation business. I trace GM's downfall to a statement by one of its top executives more than a decade ago. "We're not in the business of making cars," he said. "We're in the business of making money." Turns out, if you can't make good cars, you won't be in the money-making business either. Now it's not even enough for GM to be in the car business--that's a commodity. As co-CEO, I'd argue that we need to be in the sustainable transportation business. That means we need to offer our customers a variety of transportation solutions, all of which not only provide motion, but also promise real social value. No more "what's good for GM is good for America--and vice versa." Our new slogan is, "GM is going to get good at whatever is good for our future." And that means services as well as products, community investment as well as transportation investment, and workplace democracy as well as corporate profitability.

The corollary to this is Rule #22: Learn to see the world through the eyes of your customer. It's plain to see by GM's shrinking market share that our car company has lost touch with the American consumer. So as co-CEO, my first act will be to use the web to launch a national conversation with us--the co-owners and co-CEOs (and prospective customers) of our car company. Great companies know how to listen more and talk less; how to create a dialog with their customers, rather than insist on a know-it-all monolog. A national town hall on the web, followed by regional webinars will connect the new GM with its waiting-to-be-wooed customer base.

And finally Rule #21: Great leaders answer Tom Peters' great question: "How can I capture the world's imagination." GM under my leadership will aspire to a return to greatness. It's not enough to survive or even to return to profitability. Now that we're bankrupt, with new co-owners and new co-CEOs, we've got to play for higher stakes. My aim as co-CEO will be to create transportation products and services that are in touch with the times and in search of the future. This is the perfect time to take big risks and to tackle iconic projects. My GM is going to learn the hard lessons of our fall from grace--and embrace the opportunity to rebound to new heights. If we reframe our mission, reconnect with our customers, and refocus on higher aspirations, I'm sure we can build GM into the most sustainable, most humane, and most successful transportation company in the world! Now, my fellow CEOs, let's go to work!